It's a streetlight! It's a car charger! It's from BMW!

German auto giant BMW has thrown down a gauntlet to the lighting industry, unveiling a new streetlight that doubles as an electric vehicle charger.

No, there are no typos in the opening sentence. BMW – you know them for cars with names like BMW i, BMW M, MINI and Rolls-Royce – is getting into the LED street lighting business with a product called Light and Charge - a Swiss army knife for today's age of all things digitally converging.

'Light and Charge is a simple and innovative solution which aims to seamlessly integrate a smoothly functioning charging station network into the urban landscape,' said Peter Schwarzenbauer, a BMW board member.

Schwarzenbauer introduced the 'combined state-of-the-art LED street light and charging station' at Munich's Eurocities, a four-day international conference and exhibtion focused on 'smart cities' and energy reduction.

It marked the latest twist in the emergence of LED street lighting as a driver for smart cities. LEDs not only save a bundle of energy compared to conventional street lights, but as digital devices (an LED is a light emitting semiconductor, or diode) they are well suited to tie into sensors and urban information networks. That means they can be controlled remotely and can switch on or brighten up whenever motion detecting sensors alert them to do so.

They can also help feed information to central metropolitan control systems and to app-outfitted individuals, communicating a range of information like traffic conditions, parking, crowd behaviour and air quality among many others. (In one novel example of LED information networks, Los Angeles is consider flashing streetlights to guide rescue crews to emergency scenes).

While that opens up whole new business opportunities for conventional lighting companies like Philips, Osram and GE - who are struggling to adapt financially to LED lighting – it has also been attracting internet and IT firms.

Companies like Google and Apple have already started investing in smart controls for home lighting and heating systems, and it's probably only a matter of time until they move into larger scale urban environments. Cisco recently teamed with lighting network specialist Sensity to help turn streetlights into urban information systems  for instance, and is among the IT companies experimenting along with lighting companies at the Danish Outdoor Lighting Lab near Copenhagen. 

With Philips et al already trying to figure out how to either compete against or collaborate with the IT crowd, BMW and the car industry has now entered the fray.

BMW said it is operating two Light and Charge prototypes at headquarters in Munich, and that it is launching a larger pilot project with the city of Munich in the spring of 2015.

In its press release, BMW sounds as much BigLightCo as it does BigCar Co, noting: 'The solution (BMW) is developing in cooperation with the city of Munich can be grafted straight onto the existing local authority street lighting infrastructure...EV charging stations can be set up at any location where suitable parking is available, simply by replacing conventional street lights with Light and Charge systems.'

Lux asked BMW via email whether the company is working with a lighting partner. BMW had not responded by the time this story posted (We will publish any updates. As a fellow Munich resident, Osram might make one logical choice. Surely, Osram is casting about for novel business opportunities as it looks to reverse financial difficulties).

The Light and Charge system works with BMW's existing 'Charge Now' network for payments, which motorists can access via mobile phone apps. That gives BMW a good start at tying street lights into data networks.

Someone once said that he with the most data in the end wins. That maxim is beginning to look more and more applicable to the modern era of digital lighting, especially as companies like BMW start trying to drive its future.


Image is from BMW


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